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Richard Wagner and the Nationalization of Feeling

In the course of the 19th century Richard Wagner wore many different hats – as a musician in the employ of the royal court, as an author, a revolutionary, an exile, an insolvent debtor, the protégé of wealthy patrons and of a king, as a theatre reformer, founder of a festival, composer. He was not only witness to political upheavals and movements, but also registered, took up and (re-)shaped the social and emotional sensitivities of his time – as an artist, but also as an entrepreneur. In these capacities, Wagner reveals himself as a technician of emotions who identified and redefined the social significance of art – and the artist – in an increasingly commercialised world. To this end, he developed strategies in which emotions play a leading role. His concept of music drama as a “Gesamtkunstwerk”, a synthesis of the arts, always also implied a critique of Modernity. In this way it was marked by the ambition to change not only the individual, but also society as a whole – a desire which we also find in Karl Marx, yet in a different form and manifestation. Wagner was an anti-Semite. To what degree his staging of emotions, his ideas of music and art, his fantasy of oppression and redemption, as well as his critique of Modernity were influenced by this anti-Semitism, or if it constituted anti-Semitism itself, remains controversial to this day. The exhibition deals with Wagner’s staging of concrete emotions and examines the history of his concepts in the context of the 19th century.

The exhibition is curated by Michael Steinberg. The scientific co-curator is Katharina J. Schneider.